In 2012, radio broadcasting was hitting a self-inflicted low. As the music fates would have it, a radio station arose from the ashes of what was once a lucrative business model known as terrestrial radio. The rising station was KX935 broadcasting from Laguna Beach, California.
The thing about radio is, if done right, the music played or the DJs on the air can make us laugh, cry, or think. Radio also has the ability to transport us to any place in time. To understand how we got to the root of this story, we really have to go to the beginning. That’s where we meet Tyler Russell.
Back when Russell was wearing a younger man’s clothes he worked overnights in Palm Springs. He vividly recalls playing a request for a caller that was within the station’s format. He did right by the caller, but he was given a talking to by his Program Director for going off-script and playing a song that wasn’t on the night’s playlist. That didn’t sit well with Russell. Luckily for the world of radio that moment simmered.
Not long after, Russell discussed an idea with his parents and a few like-minded friends that had a radio background. They had a crazy idea of what radio should be. Like most of us, they were frustrated with the way corporate mega-stations were ruining radio. The corporate suits were starting to dictate what music programming the public would hear; not what the listeners want, but what the suits say they want – and the listeners will like it!
There was a storm brewing in radio stations across the country. Radio started getting a bad rap for no longer having live DJs and playing banjo heavy music across-the-board. It was a mess that corporate America created, and with the launch of online streaming sites, we nearly saw the end of radio as we knew it.
Russell was joined by Marc “Mookie” Kaczor and Jason Feddy to form the original on-air staff. With significant help from Russell’s parents, the wheels were set in motion and a dream became reality.
To start a radio station from scratch at a time when terrestrial radio was on a steady decline and online streaming sites were becoming all the rage, survival seemed like an insurmountable task. Like Sisyphus, it seemed as ambitious as trying to roll a boulder uphill. Ultimately, the support from Russell’s parents and the life examples he learned from his dad made this radio station idea happen.
With an uphill battle in front of him, Russell’s 23-year old eyes worked in his favor. Russell has said that when he took on this challenge, he didn’t pay attention to the obstacles. His dad was an entrepreneur and figured there was always risk with any new venture, so he just tuned out all the voices who said the journey for the fledgling station would most likely end in failure. Oddly enough, Russell had never experienced failure, so he dove in head first with no “Plan B.” In a throwback to the titans of industry who founded this nation, it was that spirit that launched what is now one of the most unlikely success stories in radio broadcasting in recent memory.
The vision was to play music that listeners wanted to hear; music that defined eras and new music from known bands and local artists. To engage with their community and to give a platform to those voices who had things of consequence to say. It was a vision that escaped big brother stations of the time.
Since then, the station went from broadcasting at 93.5fm to 104.7fm and now goes by KX FM. They have a dynamic morning show, great midday entertainment, and a cast of evening and weekend award-winning volunteer shows mixed with seasoned and newer live on-air DJs. The station is now embarking on its 9th year of radio excellence, and they have been embraced by the music industry from all angles and locations – coast-to-coast and around the world. The station has even had music juggernauts share the airwaves: from Buddy Guy to Peter Murphy to members of 311, Blink-182, Dirty Heads, Foo Fighters, Social Distortion, The Offspring, The Interrupters, Young the Giant; the list of on-air visitors just goes on and on.
So here’s the million dollar question, what’s next for KX FM? Well, Feddy and Kraczor have long left the station, leaving the last founding member, Russell along with long-time staff member, his wife Monica Silva-McCusker.
With that canvas as our backdrop, earlier this week, the station made an announcement about its future during the station’s morning show, “Mornings with Ed.” The show host – Ed Steinfeld – had Tyler on to make the announcement that only a handful of people knew was coming: Russell announced that he was stepping down as General Manager of the station.
In his morning show appearance, Russell said he was so grateful to so many people he met along his journey. The people and the relationships made the decision very-very hard. Russell has always given 100% to everything he’s been a part of. He met his wife Monica at the station and together they saw the station grow beyond leaps and bounds. Now with a little one in their home, he felt that the energy he needed to put in at home was that same energy he put in to the station. That and it was time to for the station to be viewed as an independently run organization without any inference of a family-run business.
Bottom line, it takes a big person to put their pride and joy ahead of their own ego and do what’s best for the station. That takes character, and will be part of Russell’s legacy.
Russell went on to say that he had put in everything he had with every idea he could think of to make the station successful. We can all agree that he accomplished that. Looking down the road, he believed he needed people that could carry the torch with the same energy, vision and forethought to take KX FM to the next level. With that in mind, Russell announced his successor as well as a few changes that he believes will set the station up for its next step in its evolution.
Alyssa Hayek has been at the station for a couple of years serving as the station’s Music Director. She will be Russell’s successor and take on the official role of General Manager. Hayek is a hard-working, seasoned administrator and on-air staff member who has earned the respect of the entire station. That combination is something that money just can’t buy and helped Russell in his final decision.
In the same statement, Russell announced a few other management changes. Erica Delamare, who currently serves as the station’s Administrative Manager, will be promoted to Music Director, and new addition Jayne Herring will take on the position of Development Director.
We caught up with new GM Alyssa Hayek to talk about her new role and her vision for the station. She began by expressing her gratitude to Russell for trusting her with the keys to the station. She said, “I’ll be sad to not see Tyler and Monica regularly, but I’m honored to have been part of their journey.” She went on to say, “I’m excited on what we have in store. We have technical upgrades coming that will help us with a broader reach. We also have a few new voices that will be joining us. The station will continue to be an active member of the community, and we’ll continue to put on the events we have while playing the music we are known for. All this and we’ll continue to spotlight local artists. I’m so excited for the staff and the community for what we’ll do together.”
We also checked in with Ed Steinfeld about the announcement. He’ll maintain the morning show duties while expanding his on-air shift. Ed conveyed how appreciative he is of the opportunity Russell and Silva-McCusker gave him. He understands the demands of the position and was very supportive of the announcement. He went to say “I look forward to what we’ll be doing.” He also told us one of the things that stands out to him is the incredible energy that Russell brought. He continued, “Tyler and Alyssa have an unparalleled love for music, with an infectious energy that makes things happen…it’s hard not to get caught up in that.”
As for the flagship morning show, Seinfeld said the show will remain unchanged from 7am to 10am. He’ll continue with his personal stash and intro wars in the 9am hour. As for the midday shift, that will feature live bands and interviews with a focus on new music in the last hour taking us to noon.
We also caught up with one of the senior members of the station’s on-air staff, Greg Friedman. He too spoke with us about the changes. Friedman has been with the station since its early days and currently drives a very successful program for the station, “Inner Journey with Greg Friedman.” Friedman agrees what Russell accomplished during his tenure was an incredible feat by any standard. The challenges to start a radio station at 23 from scratch was something he had never seen before. Truthfully, nobody has seen what was accomplished in Laguna Beach. Freidman said, “I think Tyler’s superpower is he hires well. Over the years, he’s been able to identify the right people for the right positions who took the station to where we’re at today. We get to play music our listeners want to hear, and we have the freedom to put on the show we want, that has led to many successful shows here at the station. That deserves recognition, and I give him mad props for what he did here. I see us going in the right direction.”
Through the years, stations nationwide took notice of what was happening in Laguna Beach and adjusted what they were doing. As Oscar Wilde said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” In 2021, you can’t deny that you can hear the KX FM model at some of the most successful stations nationwide. That’s not by chance…or is it? Yeah, let’s go with it’s the chance Russell took back in 2012.
With Hayek at the helm, KX FM has a very, very bright future ahead of it.